Jessica Lawlor - The Penny Hoarder

Nearly six months ago, I quit a thriving career in public relations to go full time with my side hustles -- communications consulting, blogging and teaching yoga.

Deciding to go solo wasn’t easy, and it certainly wasn’t something I took lightly. In fact, the decision was actually seven years in the making.

After reading a book about freelance writing in college, I set a goal to one day work for myself -- but I knew I wanted to learn from other successful entrepreneurs before making the leap. If you’re in a similar situation, hopefully my experience can help you.

Let’s rewind.

How I Started My Side Gig

I became active on social media nine years ago and after dabbling with various blogs over the years, I started a blog that stuck in 2012. The same blog led to incredible writing, speaking and consulting opportunities.

Before I knew it, people I had only met online inquired about my skills and wanted to hire me to do work for them.

That’s when I realized, “Oh! I can use my talents outside my job to make a little extra money.”

Enter the side hustle.

After getting serious about making my dream a reality, I spent almost three years plotting, planning and saving $40,000 for a major life and career change, all while working full time.

I became enamored with the idea of making extra money on top of my full-time job’s salary.

I loved the work I was doing, and especially loved the extra cash in my bank account and the flexibility it offered me to say yes to vacations, complete yoga teacher trainings and save up to eventually quit my job.

I wanted more and started taking on additional freelance work, but eventually I hit a burnout point. You can only take on so much side work when you also have a full-time job.

It was then I knew I had to make a choice: I could stay in my day job and prevent my side hustle from growing -- or I could take the leap, quit my job and take my side hustle full time.

I chose to take the leap… and you can, too.

With the right amount of time, planning and saving, the transition from side hustle to solopreneurship can be simpler than you think.

This timeline and to-do list will help you start your journey.

Six Months to One Year Out

I planned and saved for three years, but you can certainly do this in much less time. I spent a couple of those years without conscious knowledge of exactly when I’d be quitting my job.

If you have the luxury, consider starting your “Operation: Quit” plan six months to a year from when you actually want to be out on your own.

This timeline gives you the freedom to experiment with your side hustle to figure out what works, what sticks and how much money you can actually make from doing what you love.

To-Do List

1. Create a website/blog if you don’t have one already.

What are you waiting for?! Start that website or blog.

If you already have a website or blog, audit it to determine if you need to make any changes or tweaks to better reflect your goals and the types of clients and work you want to attract.

2. Publish a “services” or “work with me” page on your website.

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By developing a “work with me” page on your site, you let visitors know you’re open for business.

Be sure to promote your services with your email list and on social media. My first client actually found me through my website, but only after I included an article he wrote in my weekly link roundup.

3. Begin to take on clients.

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If you haven’t yet, start to take on freelance clients.

This is especially important if you’ve never worked with clients before -- you’ll want to make sure you enjoy the work before taking your side hustle full time.

If you already have one or two clients, see if you can take on one more project to grow your hustle a little bit more.

While I didn’t set a monthly financial goal, eventually my freelance work hovered between $1,000 and $1,500 per month, so it helped me set a financial benchmark moving forward. It also made it simpler to figure out how many more clients I’d need to take on after saying goodbye to my full-time salary.

4. Save your side hustle money in a separate bank account.

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Don’t touch it! The smartest thing I did while preparing to quit my job was putting every penny I made from my side hustle into a separate bank account I never touched.

Over three years, I saved $40,000. The extra income gave me confidence, since I had a significant amount of money to fall back on if my business struggled.

Even if you can’t quite save that amount of money, having an emergency fund set aside with two to three month’s living expenses is both financially savvy and a source of comfort.

Three Months Out

Until about three months before quitting my job, I dreamed of “one day” leaving, but hadn’t taken the following steps to make my vision a reality.

It was at the three month mark that I experienced a defining moment and actually made the decision to quit my job and set a firm deadline.  

On an ordinary October day, I was driving to a work meeting in another part of the state. I had pulled over on the side of the turnpike to take a catch-up call with my boss and was jotting down notes and to-dos.

In that moment, I felt scattered, stressed and unhappy.

After the call, I resumed driving and called one of my best friends who also runs her own business. I vented to her about my work trip and endless to-do list.

“Jess, what are you doing?” she asked me. “Quit your job. Take your own business full time. You can do it. I believe in you.”

She (and many others) had said these words to me a thousand times before, but in that very moment, they struck me differently. The conversation set things in motion for me.

The three-month mark is extremely important because it’s when you start paying attention to the small details that make quitting your job logistically possible.

To-Do List

5. Tell your family and close friends.

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Before quitting my job, I looped in my immediate family and a couple of very close friends. They were integral in giving me the encouragement I needed to stick to my quit date deadline.

Your personal network will be there to provide support, but also accountability.

6. Create a budget.

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With the help of a friend who had recently quit her job, I created a spreadsheet outlining every one of my expenses, both large and small. Even my twice-monthly manicure indulgence went into the budget.

Hello, rude awakening! This wasn’t a fun process, but helped me figure out the absolute minimum I’d need to make each month as a solo business owner to keep up with my living expenses -- and maintain my lifestyle.

While budgeting, don’t forget that as a solo business owner, you’ll pay taxes differently and need to save extra money for those quarterly payments, as well.

I highly recommend working with an accountant to ensure you’re following the rules. The financial part of running a business can be extremely complicated and confusing, so enlisting professional help is an important business investment.

7. Research health care options.

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When you quit your job, the number one question you’ll get asked is, “What are you going to do about health insurance?!”

The good news is, thanks to the Affordable Healthcare Act, entrepreneurs have more options than ever before. Still, ensuring I could find affordable health care coverage was a major priority before quitting my job.

I researched lots of options, but ended up going through Healthcare.gov for my insurance. The site charges for health care based on your estimated income for the coming year, so be prepared to determine a figure.

My original estimate was way off-base, so three months in, my insurance rate increased. Leave wiggle room in your monthly budget for these types of changes.

One Month Out

This is where it starts to feel very real!

You’ll likely experience a range of emotions from excitement to anxiety -- and everything in between.

To be completely honest, the one-month-out experience was draining for me.

During this period, I was wrapping up my last few weeks at my day job, but also getting my new business off the ground. At times, it felt like I had two demanding full-time jobs.

For me, this was probably the most high-stress, high-anxiety month of my life, but laying the groundwork during this pivotal month set me up for success.

To-Do List

8. Give your notice.

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If possible, give your job as much notice as possible. I gave a month’s notice, but in most jobs, two to three weeks should suffice.

Sharing the news isn’t easy, but once it’s on the table, you’ll feel like a weight has been lifted from your shoulders. Then, you get to move forward to the more fun stuff!

9. Create a networking spreadsheet.

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Before publicly announcing my news, I made a list of everyone in my life (mentors, old bosses, professors, influential connections in my industry) I wanted to share my announcement with personally.

The list turned out to be a lot longer than I initially thought. It turned into a robust spreadsheet I use to keep track of when I last spoke with those in my network. It also serves as a reminder to connect with my community as often as possible.

In my first month of business, I welcomed three new clients and brought in nearly $1,000 solely from those I connected with in this initial outreach.

10. Write an announcement and spread the news.

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This is the fun part! You get to tell all your friends, family and professional contacts your big news.

I wrote my announcement as a blog post and shared it to my various social media accounts. Bask in the glow of the wonderful wishes, compliments and kind words you receive on this day -- you deserve it.

11. Connect, connect, connect

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After you email your network and share your news publicly, something crazy is going to happen.

You’re going to be inundated with meeting and call requests. Some of these meetings may be with potential clients and others may be networking meetings with those in your industry.

Be strategic and don’t let yourself get burned out -- but try to take as many of these meetings as you can.

The momentum of people being excited for you and wanting to talk about your big news only lasts a few months, so take advantage while you can.

12. Prospect

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My biggest worry when I thought about my first day as CEO of my own biz was I’d have no actual work to do.

I hustled through the last month at my job, writing proposals before work, taking meetings after work and checking in on client prospects during my lunch hour. These efforts were fruitful, as I actually had more work than I could handle during my first month in business!

Prospecting remains important moving forward into future months. But as you get your company off the ground, new business development is key.

After officially quitting my job and starting my own business in February, I met my previous salary in my second month as a full-time entrepreneur. Every month since, I’ve actually exceeded it.

Last month, after putting aside 20% of my income for taxes, I exceeded my previous salary by 21%.

My business continues to grow, and each month I’ve increased my income more than the previous month. I know this upward trajectory isn’t a realistic expectation every single month, and I foresee times where I’ll make less than the month prior.

But I’m excited and motivated by the fact that, as a solo business owner doing my own thing, my earning potential is unlimited.

Your Turn: Planning your own leap into solopreneurship? What other questions do you have? Leave them in the comments below!

After six years in the corporate PR world, Jessica Lawlor left her job to run her own communications agency, blog/brand and teach yoga. She is a writer and blogs at JessicaLawlor.com about getting gutsy: stepping outside your comfort zone to reach your goals and live a life that makes you truly happy.

You wake up early to write and stay up late to tame your inbox.

You draft blog posts during lunch and spend sunny Saturdays grinding away on your passion project.

Oh, yeah. And you have a full-time job.

You, my friend, are rocking a side hustle.

The side hustle, or side gig, has risen in popularity over the last several years. Maintaining a full-time job while pursuing a passion on the side offers the best of both worlds.

You get the comfort and security of a steady paycheck and benefits, along with the excitement and endless opportunity to do what you love and make extra money on the side.

It’s not easy to balance it all -- but with a strategy in place, you can do it.

For three years, I built a successful blog and communications business, saving more than $40,000 in side-hustle income, all while working as communications manager for a tourism office.

Use these four tips to excel at your job, grow a thriving side business and still find time for a little fun in your life.

1. Wake Up Earlier

Side gig

I know, I know. You can’t wake up earlier. You like to work at night.

I’ve been there. A former night owl, I cringed at the thought of a 5 a.m. alarm.

However, after months of coming home from work drained after a long day and completely unable to write, I knew I had to find another pocket of time to pursue my side hustle.

After all, not being able to write meant turning down potential writing clients, losing potential extra income and missing opportunities to grow my own blog and brand.

I slowly made the effort to set my alarm a little bit earlier each day. Within a few months, I was waking up at 5 a.m. and earned myself two full hours of side hustle time I’d never considered.

This two-hour pocket of time felt like a gift.

It allowed me to say yes to lucrative writing opportunities -- like a regular magazine assignment. These often allowed me to make nearly $1,000 per quarter for just a few hours’ work a couple of mornings the month my assignments were due.

Best of all, getting my writing done in the morning left my evenings free to pursue other passions, like running, yoga or even happy hour.

Still not convinced?

When you wake up in the morning, you’re well-rested and energized. In the early hours of the day, there’s less of a chance of being bothered by the incessant pinging of your inbox or social media notifications.

You have clear, uninterrupted time to get work done.

Don’t you want to give the best and most focused hours of your day to the projects you’re most excited about?

2. Focus and Prioritize

Side gig

Often, when you rock a side hustle, you have limited weekday hours to dedicate to your craft.

If you only have one or two hours each day, know exactly what you hope to accomplish during that work session before you sit down. It’s easy to procrastinate or multitask when you don’t have a clear goal in mind.

If you rock your side hustle in the morning, set your goal the night before. Say it out loud or write it down somewhere.

If you work on your side hustle in the evening, set your intention in the morning. That way, when you wake up or get home from work, you know exactly what you’re going to do and can get started right away -- without needing to think too hard about it.

Similarly, be realistic about how much work you can get done in one sitting.

For example, when I was side hustling, I knew I could only write one blog post each morning. This helped me plan ahead to make sure I prioritized my work accordingly.

3. Use Your Limited Time to Your Advantage

Side gig

One thing I quickly realized after I took my side hustle full time in February is I actually was more productive while working a full-time job.

Why is that? A little thing called Parkinson’s Law. This is the idea that work expands to fill the time available for its completion.

If I have one hour to complete a project, I’ll get it done within the hour. If I have eight hours to complete a project, you can bet I’m going to take the maximum amount of time available to complete it. It’s just how our brains work.

Use your limited amount of time to your advantage to get more done in the long term.

If you’re a writer who can produce one article in an hour and you have five extra hours in a week, you have the opportunity to earn an extra $375 a week.

Stop thinking of your limited amount of time to work as an excuse. Instead, think of it as an amazing benefit, helping you to be more productive and actually get more done.

4. Leverage Your Day Job to Get Better at Your Side Hustle

Side gig

If you’re maintaining a full-time job while working a side hustle, you bring the skills you learn in the office to your own business.

Before I started my full-time public relations job, I knew little about email marketing. But with the skills I picked up at work, I created my own 1,400-person strong email community.

Another awesome benefit?

Most full-time jobs pay for professional development like conferences, courses and trainings. Consider these FREE opportunities to educate yourself -- and potentially grow your side hustle with your new skills -- on your company’s time and dime.

On the flip side, think about all the skills you’re picking up and sharpening as you develop your side gig, whether it’s blogging, SEO, design or social media. Not only are you honing your professional skills for your business, you can also bring these to your full-time job and look good at work.

As a bonus, getting better at your full-time job only helps you move up the ladder and earn raises.

Where Could Your Side Hustle Take You?

While the grind of working a day job and side hustle may feel challenging at times, just remember you’re working toward a bigger goal.

If you’re like me and your dream is to one day quit your job to take your hustle full time, freelancing on the side is a natural step to make it happen.

The $40,000 I saved during my three years of side hustling served as a cushion to give me the confidence to finally make the leap into running my own business. Knowing I had a significant amount of money in the bank gave me the freedom and flexibility to say, “I can do this.”

With a little bit of strategy and time management, you really can have it all -- a successful side hustle, a fulfilling day job and a thriving personal life.

Your Turn: Do you have a side hustle and a full-time job? What tips would you add to this list? Share them in the comments below.

After six years in the corporate PR world, Jessica Lawlor left her job to run her own communications agency, blog/brand and teach yoga. She is a writer and blogs about getting gutsy: stepping outside your comfort zone to reach your goals and live a life that makes you truly happy.